Ever since I found out I was pregnant with Maggie, and probably even before, I went back and forth with one of the biggest questions women of my generation ask themselves: To work, or not to work?
Initially, what I told myself and others was this: I’m just not the stay at home type. To be honest, when I think about this statement now, I’m not entirely sure what that means. The more women I’ve come into contact with that have decided to stay at home, the more I realize that there’s not such thing as a stay at home “type”. We all have factors that pull us in one direction or another. Sometimes necessity is the deciding factor, other times it’s ideology. Personality plays a role too; I’ve spoken to plenty of people that tell me the quality of their family time is improved because working causes them to miss and appreciate their kids and spouses. Needing that time away to do their own thing doesn’t make them better or worse parents, it just makes them who they are.
I had Maggie in October of my second year of teaching public school. Those of you who are teachers, are in relationships with teachers, or have friends who are teachers know that teaching isn’t a job– it’s a lifestyle. Along with the papers we haul with us back and forth to school, we also carry the stresses, anxieties, and joys of our responsibility for the children we teach each day. I teach seventh grade, which averages to about 120 students each year. Having a child of my own didn’t really diminish what I felt for these other kids, it just added to my load one more person I needed to please and care for.
Adding to the load was a forty-minute commute to work each day. I remember one particular drive home from work very clearly. It was about a month after I returned to school from maternity leave, and I was on the phone with my older sister Beth, who was pregnant with her son Howie. Even though I risked freaking her out about her own upcoming challenges, she listened to me cry as I told her, “I feel like I’m split into these three roles, and I’m failing at all of them. Almost every day I feel like a terrible teacher, a terrible wife, and a terrible mother.” There simply wasn’t enough time in the day to give my job, my husband, and my baby the attention that they needed. And even if I could, what about me? Where did my own well-being fit into all of this? She reassured me that this was just my perception, and that I was surely doing the best I could. Later, she told me how surprised she was that I felt this way; to her, I seemed like I was balancing the different parts of my life very admirably. I, as always, was my own worst critic.
More than two years have passed since then, and while being a working mom has become a normal part of my routine, I still feel lacking in all three departments. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, since I have a happy working environment (closer to home), a happy marriage, and a happy daughter. I’m making it work. I’m managing. But not a day goes by that I don’t want to do or be more, and I often wonder if letting go of one of those roles would give me the time and energy to step it up in the other departments and maybe, just maybe, feel like I’m actually succeeding at something.
Change is terrifying, and one of my greatest fears surrounding this issue is that I will leave the teaching profession, which I enjoy, only to find out that I should have stayed. I’m afraid that, only one year into the position, I will have wasted a fantastic opportunity to teach at a wonderful school only ten minutes from home. I’m afraid that by choosing my family over teaching I will become isolated and lonely, stuck in the house without the companionship of coworkers. I worry that others will judge me for my decision, thinking me selfish or stuck-up, and I know that I won’t be able to help judging myself for giving up on teaching. In that sense, I will certainly feel like a failure.
In short, I can think of a million reasons to keep doing what I’m doing now. Sometimes, though, I hear a voice, a whisper, some sort of calling, saying, “Do the thing that is hardest. Let go.”
I don’t know where that leaves me, especially with baby #2 coming this summer. What I ask of you, friends, family, and fellow moms, is input. I would love to hear your words of advice and the experiences that you have had, because you help me remember that as much as I agonize over every decision, I’m not alone.